I’ll make it even harder on myself by having a go at one of the most difficult awards to predict at the start of the season. No, not Coach of the Year (COY); even a psychic wouldn’t guess at that one until at least mid-season. I’m talking about the Most Improved Player (MIP) award.
Before I get into who I believe are this year’s candidates, let’s take a look at the previous winners:
The MIP award usually goes to the player who increases his point total more than anyone else. Since the 2002-03 season — when the voting process changed to its current format — the MIP has played at least 32 minutes per game in at least 67 games, and scored at least 13.3 points per game. The MIP is also young; only one winner (Hedo Turkoglu) was older than 25 years old and had more than four years of experience when he won the award. And of course, thanks to Yay Points!, the defining feature of the award is that the winner has increased his previous year’s scoring by about 5.0 points per game — actual improvement of play is not required. Most MIP winners achieve this PPG increase through a simple increase in playing time; Danny Granger is the only winner in the last ten years who increased his PPG without increasing his MPG.
Before the start of last season I selected James Harden as my pick to win the 2012-13 MIP award. While he did end up increasing his PPG by 9.1, he only finished 7th in the voting. Two other players I highlighted — Nikola Vucevic (4th) and Omer Asik (6th) — finished in the top ten. It’s difficult to predict the award before the start of the season — we don’t necessarily know where players are in their teams’ rotations, or how injuries or trades are going to affect minutes — but I’m going to do my best.
A Jazz big man
With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap leaving Utah in the offseason, all three of these young players should see substantial increases in minutes. In particular, Kanter seems to be poised for the largest jump in minutes. Evans could see a huge jump as well, but only if he beats out Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams, and Gordon Hayward (who should mostly play at shooting guard) for playing time. Favors will see more minutes, but of these three players he saw the most minutes last season.
Relevant 2012-13 Stats: 14.2 MPG, 5.3 PPG
With Russell Westbrook out until mid-December, Jackson will start the season as the Thunder’s starting point guard. He’ll also see increased minutes as Westbrook plays himself back into shape. Finally, with the loss of Kevin Martin during the offseason, the Thunder will need to find someone to mop up some extra minutes at guard. Put all that together and Jackson should be an MIP candidate.
Relevant 2012-13 Stats: 10.3 MPG, 3.8 PPG
It seems that Anderson has claimed the starting shooting guard spot in Philadelphia. If so, he is likely to see a huge jump in his minutes and scoring; having only seen 10.3 MPG last season, it won’t be hard for him to double or even triple his averages.
Relevant 2012-13 Stats: 13.1 MPG, 6.0 PPG
If the Bucks know what’s good for them, they’ll start Larry Sanders at centre, Henson at power forward, and Ilyasova at small forward. If that happens, Henson will see a huge jump in minutes. As a matter of fact, even if Henson doesn’t start, it’s hard to see Milwaukee keeping him behind Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino in the rotation.
Relevant 2012-13 Stats: 20.4 MPG, 8.5 PPG
Bledsoe had an excellent season last year, but being stuck behind Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford in the rotation wasn’t good for his minutes. In the offseason, Bledsoe was traded to the Phoenix Suns, where he’ll probably start at shooting guard and see a large jump in minutes.
Relevant 2012-13 Stats: 20.7 MPG, 7.9 PPG
Drummond’s rookie season put him in rare company, but he was hampered by a bad back and a lack of playing time. With good health, a new coach, and higher expectations, Drummond should see his MPG rise to the lower 30s.
Relevant 2012-13 Stats: 20.1 MPG, 7.7 PPG
After the Rudy Gay trade, Lionel Hollins didn’t really play Ed Davis as much as many people were expecting. With Hollins out in Memphis, will the new coach up Davis’ minutes? Given the new direction the team has taken since hiring John Hollinger, I’m anticipating that they will trade Zach Randolph and Davis will see his minutes increase as a result.
If I have to pick, I’ll go with a Jazz big man. Let’s say…Enes Kanter. Or maybe I should go with Andre Drummond. Of course, James Anderson might up his shooting rate….